Q & A

11 08 2010

I am rapidly approaching the point in my journey in Korea where its novelty is beginning to slip through my fingers like sand; I might actually say I am getting used to life here.  As a result I have been quite dry of new things to write about lately.  Yet after speaking with my family via Skype this evening, I became enlightened of a few tidbits of information that you still might find new/interesting.  Here goes.

What was the thing that most surprised me?

Fresh off the boat:  shoes off at the door, bowing during greetings, sleeping on the floor (in most cases), dining etiquette (eating seated on the floor, sharing many dishes, etc.), no bathtubs, no ovens, no driers (hang dry only), at least half the toilets are hole-in-the-floor squat style, BYO toilet paper everywhere you go, street food everywhere, sea creatures swimming in tanks outside restaurants on every street, everyone is very well-kept in appearance at all times, the prevalence and popularity of public bathhouses, the circa 1950’s gender roles.

Through time here:

1. The only way to offend a Korean when it comes to dining etiquette (including snacks) is to not share what you are eating.

2. Early on during an introductory conversation with someone, you will be asked: “How old do you think she is?” usually in reference to an older woman.  I was dumbfounded at how to respond to such a question, as age (especially among women) is not a topic of friendly conversation in the states.  At first I thought it to be a vanity thing, so I venture a guess of about 8 years younger than I really think, followed by “Oh, how do you all keep your skin so young-looking!”.  Through time I came to realize (or assume, as this has yet to be affirmed for me..) it is likely to establish the hierarchy of this particular social situation, as age determines etiquette for all such social situations.

3. On first glance you could assume everyone here is gay (in reaction to their ever flawless appearance and tendency to link hands/arms with members of the same sex – both male and female), yet society as a whole is very naive on this issue; it’s almost as if “gay” doesn’t exist in Korea.  It certainly does, I must add, but you have to know where to look for it.  It’s not out in the open as it is in the West.

4. The fact that the entire world freaks out about “rising tensions” with North Korea, except South Korea.

What do I miss most about home?

This one is easy, as I have spent ample time reminiscing on the following list since stepping off the plane.  After the first few weeks I began to REALLY miss western breakfast, i.e. greasy hash browns with fried eggs and toast. Though this one did fade within the next month or so as I got used to Korean food and now the memories of home-style sustenance rarely pang my stomach.  With the following exceptions:

1. Good, black coffee.  I can’t handle the creamy, sugary crap that plagues this country.

2. I terribly miss microbrew beer.  The only stuff here that is any step above PBR or Keystone Light is imported Guinness or Hoegarden for about $3-4 per 12 ounce can.  Ouch…

3. Good cheese.  Cheese, in Korea, means American Kraft Singles, which is imported and in turn insanely expensive, not to mention insanely disgusting.  FYI: NEVER order anything here with cheese – the quickest way to ruin a good meal is to smother it with melted Kraft Singles.

What would I bring back home for America to adopt?

1. Their gun laws.  No guns in Korea = no need for me to worry about my classroom getting shot up.  I can listen to my kids joke around about guns in their video games without crediting it as a “warning sign”.

2. The shoes off rule.  I think it is more respectful, and we get to wear these cute little slip on’s inside.  Also, eating dinner at a restaurant in your socks is rather comfortable.

3. Emphasis on learning other languages.  America could stand to be at least a bi-lingual society.

What’s my favorite part about being here?

Favorite part would have to be gaining the realization that life really can be whatever you want it to be.  That the “conventional life” doesn’t necessarily have to trump another one you may have in mind for yourself.

Also the opportunity to learn about a culture in a way I never could in school or online.  Though difficult, frustrating, and unnerving at times, i have been forced innumerably into reconsideration of my own perceptions and ideologies about life.

Any other questions, you know where to find me!

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Northern Exposure

25 05 2010

Relations with North Korea are beginning to boil, once again.  As broadcasted, trade has been restricted, border controls tightened, and as of today South Korea has positioned loudspeakers along the border projecting propaganda into the North.  It is interesting how many perceptions and predictions arise from such a dilemma.  I haven’t heard a word on the issue from any of my Korean acquaintances.  In fact, when I ask for their thoughts they seem completely clueless to any quasi-recent developments on the matter. On the contrary, my American friend suggested registration with the US Department of State just in case shit hit the fan, and my journalist European friend believes it is just another  story in the newspapers.  From complete oblivion, to mild paranoia, to incredulity.   While each of these assumptions have some credibility in theory, I believe what can most safely be taken from these hypotheses is that in all honesty, we don’t know.    As frustrating as it is there is not much that can be done to wipe the fog from this window; no one knows what the future holds for this troubled peninsula except the king of madness, instability, and little-man syndrome himself, whom I would venture to guess is as unsure on this one as we are.

I feel obliged to note that my thoughts on the matter have little bearing in historical competence; obviously.  History was never my forte.  All I know is I took my American friend’s advice and took the few minutes to register with the US Department of State, because what I do know, is all you can do is prepare for the worst and hope for the best.